Cutting Edge Culinary Science –
In a previous article we touched on creating rapid infusions as one of the great uses available from a modern, reusable whipped cream dispenser.
You really liked it and responded with excellent feedback. Thank you! After hearing your desire for more information on the rapid infusion process as well as the history of infusions, we’ve decided to provide a more in-depth article on the subject.
So without further ado, let’s dive in.
What is an infusion?
This is a great question. When the word infusion is used by professional bartenders or cooks, it is usually surrounding adding flavors to alcohol.
Often when talking to a professional creating an “infusion”, it appears to be an extraordinarily complicated and timely process that requires great amounts of trial and error, only to keep the final recipes a secret so no one can copy and sell their “house” products.
This does exist in many bars and restaurants, but with most infusions this couldn’t be farther from the truth. People make and enjoy infusions every day and don’t even realize it.
A good working definition of an infusion is: To steep ingredients in a liquid until the flavors have been extracted and infused into either the liquid or other solid ingredients.
All liquids can extract flavor through a number of different processes, but usually heat or acidity is used to pull the flavor from particularly aromatic ingredients.
The most common types of liquid used for infusions are alcohols, oils, creams, and water.
The most popular infusions happen daily in households all over the world. These include coffees, teas, cooking extracts, and cocktails. They are incredibly common. The French name for certain teas is even l’infusion.
Common types of cooking infusions found in households are pickles, marinates, dressings, broths, and brines. Even ferments use a form of infusion for flavoring, although it’s a completely different process that we might cover in a future article. Let us know if you’re interested!
As for historic origins, there is currently no known starting point for when mankind began to use infusions, but we do know that the mideastern and asian cultures have been infusing teas for many thousands of years and the ancient Sumerians were brewing alcohols 4000 years ago that very well may have integrated infusion for taste.
Most modern western infusions with both alcohol and cuisine began to develop around the Middle Ages in the regions of Italy and France, as gastronomical culture began to mull wines and refine the cooking styles and flavor of meals, usually for kings, their courts and the upper class aristocracy.
It’s not hard to make infusions, but because of the time necessary for the flavors to blend correctly many people don’t ever delve in and experiment, because they are too busy and have other priorities. Modern technology is solving this problem.
We’ve been experiencing a food and beverage renaissance for over a hundred years as wave after wave of innovations lead to new flavors, expanding our pallets and refining ingredients, techniques, and tools for both the kitchen and bar all over the world.
One of the interesting innovations has been the introduction of quicker and quicker infusions through different types of cooking styles based on science. These are now called rapid infusions and they’re not only a time-saving game changer, but often add fun and creativity to the bar and kitchen.
How does a rapid infusion work?
Rapid infusions are exactly what they sound like. It takes the infusion process described above, which can often take months of waiting for flavor profiles to develop, and shrinks the time significantly. In fact, some infusions that have taken weeks to months of steeping in the past have been reduced to mere hours to complete.
In the modern bar and kitchen there are three main ways to infuse flavor: through a vacuum, through a gentle slow-heating method, and through pressurizing with a whipped cream dispenser.
We will forgo the first two methods in this article for the sake of time and focus on the whipped cream dispenser, but please let us know if you’d like more information about the vacuum or sous vide methods of infusion and we’ll create an article in the future.
Infusion with a whipped cream dispenser exploded into the public around 2010 when Dave Arnold, the Director of Culinary Technology at the French Culinary Institute experimented with alcohols and flavorful ingredients inside the pressurized siphon.
Arnold was originally inspired by a youtube video made by Archie Balll in 2010. The original video can still be found here and involves marinating chicken strips with teriyaki sauce inside a plastic bottle using pressure from CO2.
The basic idea is that with extreme pressure liquid can be injected into a solid. It worked well for Balll when marinating solids, but he had trouble because of the small size of the plastic bottles. The process can be done much easier using the whipped cream dispenser because of the larger opening and the gas valves and pressure seals.
Dave Arnold expanded this idea by infusing the flavor of the liquid by immersing the solids with liquid that once pressurized would penetrate deep into the ingredient’s cells, only to come squirting back out when the pressure was removed. This release of liquid brought much of the flavor profile back into the liquid mixture in an extraordinary quick amount of time.
So if you had zested rinds from lemons and vodka in a pressurized dispenser, the vodka would push into the zest at a molecular level, then you would release the gas through a valve and the vodka would squeeze back out, drawing a lemon flavor with it. Arnold further discovered that time and agitation under pressure changed the flavors produced.
As expected, this became a wonderful addition to bars and kitchens that wanted to either add flavor to a liquid, or deeply infuse a flavor into a solid through penetrative marination. Experimentation has developed some amazing flavor profiles from habanero infused tequila to alcohol infused fruit salads.
The creative possibilities are near endless. To get started you will find great recipes and inspiration in our recipes section.
One surprising side result of the rapid infusion process with N2O is different flavor profiles than traditional infusions. For example, chocolate extract uses nibs in alcohol to infuse the deep chocolate flavors, but an underlying bitterness transfers too that is too harsh for most drinks. Rapid infusion doesn’t permit the time for the bitter flavors to transfer and the N2O has a naturally sweet sensation that heightens the drinking experience!
No one article can give all information about infusions, but we hope that this has answered your basic questions and given you a fire to experiment. If you take the information in this article and our recipes, you can start an extraordinary culinary adventure that will turn into a passion that will satisfy you immensely.
Enjoy infusing, marinating, mixing, drinking, cooking, eating, and every other endeavor you’re led to through this new pursuit. And if you have any questions or comments, please let us know, it means a lot to us. Thanks and have fun!
We have an instructional PDF for how to make a rapid infusion with a whipped cream dispenser available here.